[ExI] Watson On Jeopardy

David Lubkin lubkin at unreasonable.com
Tue Feb 15 16:10:47 UTC 2011

What I'm curious about is to what extent Watson learns from his mistakes.
Not by his programmers adding a new trigger pattern or tweaking
parameters, but by learning processes within Watson.

Most? successful people and organizations view their mistakes as a
tremendous opportunity for improvement. After several off-by-one
errors in my code, I realize I am prone to those errors, and specially
check for them. When I see repeated misunderstanding of the referent
of pronouns, I add the practice of pausing a conversation to clarify who
"they" refers to where it's ambiguous.

Limited to Jeopardy, it isn't always clear what kind of question a
category calls for. Champion players will immediately discern why a
question was ruled wrong and adapt their game on the fly.

Parenthetically, there is a divide in competitions between playing the
game and playing your opponent. Take chess. Some champions
make the objectively best move. Emanuel Lasker chose "lesser"
moves that he calculated would succeed against *that* player.
Criticized for it, he'd point out that he won the game, didn't he?

I wonder how often contestants deliberately don't press their buzzer
because they assess that one of their opponents will think they know
the answer but will get it wrong.

Tie game. $1200 clue. I buzz, get it right, $1200. I wait, Spike buzzes,
gets it right, I'm down $1200. Spike buzzes, gets it wrong, I answer,
I'm up $2400. No one buzzes, I've lost a chance to be up $1200.

I suspect that it doesn't happen very often because of the pressure of
the moment. (I know contestants but asking them wouldn't answer
the question.) If so, that's another way for Watson to have an edge.

(Except that last night showed that Watson doesn't yet know what
the other players' answers were. Watson 2.0 would listen to the game.
Build a profile of each player. Which questions they buzzed on, how
long it took, how long it took after buzzing for them to speak their
answer, voice-stress analysis of how confident they sounded, how
correct the answer was. (Essentially part of what an expert poker
player does.)

I also wonder about the psychological elements. Some players
seem to dominate a Jeopardy game. If you were playing Ken
Jennings in his 63rd game, or a single game opponent who's up
by $15,000, would you play better than you otherwise would or
worse? (The initial strong lead that Watson had could have
intimidated lesser adversaries.)

-- David.

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